Morning trip to Boggs Rock in Pickens County, South Carolina — 2016-04-11

Recently, I saw some images from a familiar, nearby site called Boggs Rock in Pickens County, South Carolina. My Flickr friend, Meng Zhang, had posted some beautiful images of a favorite wildflower of mine, Diamorpha smallii or Elf Orpine, so I knew it would be in bloom this week. The day broke very cloudy, but with little chance of rain during the day. That meant great conditions for photography, so I packed up my gear and headed off to Boggs Rock to see what I could find.

Elf Orpine
Elf Orpine

According to Wikipedia:

Diamorpha is a genus of family Crassulaceae. It is monotypic, including only the species Diamorpha smallii, an endemic of the southeastern United States. It becomes active in late fall and winter, blooms in late March [early to mid-April, for us in South Carolina], then dies. It has red succulent leaves that act to reflect light and hold water. Diamorpha smallii is found primarily on solution pools, shallow basins on rocky outcrops that contain seasonal pools. The plant is mainly found in Georgia, though populations have also been noted in Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. It is listed as an endangered species by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The common name, Elf Orpine, comes from an herb (Sedum telephium of the family Crassulaceae, the orpine family) that has fleshy leaves and pink or purple flowers and was formerly used in folk medicine. Middle English “orpin”, from Anglo-French, from “orpiment”. And of course, “Elf”: a supernatural creature of folk tales, typically represented as a small, elusive figure in human form with pointed ears, magical powers, and a capricious nature.

There is another species that closely resembles Diamorpha smallii, and that is Sedum pusillum or Puck’s Orpine. I have photographed it a Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve in Lancaster County — a similar but much larger habitat as Boggs Rock — but I have been unable to find Puck’s Orpine at Boggs Rock. The color of the stem and leaves is green to reddish green, and the flower petals are more oval-shaped than those of Elf Orpine. Here is an image of Puck’s Orpine for reference:

Puck's Orpine

Upon arriving at Boggs Rock, one is met with the sight of what looks like a rocky bald covered by irregularly shaped, red mats:

Mats of Elf Orpine on the rocky bald

These mats generally run along slight depressions in the outcrop. This is where water collects and where the sand particles created by erosion from the weather and chemical action by Lichen also collect. The Elf Orpine seeds will find a suitable habitat and grow in this loose, wet sand:

Elf Orpine in its sandy habitat

Sometimes, the plants will be loosely scattered in the sand as in the above image, but more frequently, they will be quite dense as in the following shot:

Dense mat of Elf Orpine

Here are a few more wide-angle shots of the granitic outcrop showing the mats of Elf Orpine:

Elf Orpine Elf Orpine

The gray-green mossy areas are Grimmia laevigata or Grimmia dry rock moss. In drier weather, the color of the moss is gray, but when it is hydrated, it becomes dark green:

Grimma dry rock moss

The two Lichens are a Parmelia or Rock-Shield Lichen species and a Cladonia or Reindeer moss Lichen species. Here is a shot of the Rock-Shield Lichen which covers most of the exposed outcrop:

Rock-Shield Lichen

Note: If any of you Dear Readers know the botanical names of either of the Lichens, please let us know, and I will add the names to the image descriptions.

Here are some close-up images of the Elf Orpine which show more details of the flowers and the round, succulent leaves. The entire plant is, at most, 2 inches (5 cm) tall:

Elf Orpine Elf Orpine
Elf Orpine Elf Orpine

Elf Orpine

Elf Orpine Elf Orpine

As you can see, there are a number of unopened buds which will provide a profusion of flowers in the coming week to ten days.

There were a number of other wildflowers blooming on the outcrop. One, in particular, was Tradescantia hirsuticaulis or Hairystem Spiderwort:

Hairystem Spiderwort Hairystem Spiderwort

There were quite a few of them, but most did not have open flowers at the time of my visit.

Another wildflower in bloom was Minuartia uniflora or Piedmont Sandwort:

Piedmont Sandwort

Along the edge of the woods that borders the outcrop, were thick mats of Polytrichum commune or Common Haircap moss showing both male and female reproductive structures:

Common Haircap moss

Here are close-ups of the structures, with male on the left and female on the right:

Common Haircap moss - male Common Haircap moss - female

Once fertilized, the female structure will form spore-filled capsules:

Spore capsules of Common Haircap moss

I’m really happy that this wonderful wildflower site is so close to home. I allows me to study and photograph these plants by spending just a few hours out in the field. So far, this site has not been vandalized by graffiti artists as have so many other similar sites. There are a few broken beer bottles scattered here and there, but no spray painting.

As I am leaving, I notice a small patch of Elf Orpine growing in the moss. I had already packed up my camera gear, but this was so nice that I had to capture the moment:

Elf Orpine

Another end to a successful foray into the field for Spring wildflowers. This is just the start of our Spring blooming season, so stay tuned to this space for more to come…

–Jim

9 comments


  • John Fowler

    WOW! Just beautiful!

    April 12, 2016
  • Greg Peters

    Jim, great shots as always. Your macro work is terrific!

    April 12, 2016
  • Well that little Elf Orpine is just the cutest thing! And, your photography is breathtaking as usual. I’m looking forward to more of your Spring wildflower posts.

    April 12, 2016
  • John Neufeld

    These are astoundingly beautiful flowers. Great work.

    April 12, 2016
  • Bob Sprague

    Hmmm … “a small, elusive figure in human form with pointed ears, magical powers, and a capricious nature”.
    That sounds a lot like some folks we know from the NOC.
    In fact, except for the “small” part, it could be John Horner.

    April 12, 2016
  • Meng

    Great post as usual! Thanks for pointing out the difference of Puck’s Orpine. If I had a chance to visit Forty Acre Rock someday, I’ll look carefully.

    April 12, 2016
  • sonnia hill

    WOnderful photos of all the lichen, moss, accompanying the tiny Diamorpha. THe red mats are quite a sight.

    April 13, 2016
  • Max Smith

    Great pics (as always) and, also as usual, love the informative text. I learn a lot from your blog!

    April 14, 2016
  • Lynne Davis

    I am working on a databasing project for the University of Tennessee Herbarium in Knoxville. One of the steps of recording each specimen is to GeoLocate the collection site by putting a dot on a map. A specimen of Riccia sullicantii (a liverwort) was collected at Boggs Rock, but it wasn’t indicated on the map. I looked the name up on the Internet and found your wonderful pictures of the Diamorpha. I used to live in Rockdale County, Georgia, and am very familiar with the endemics of granite outcrops. This brought back some lovely memories.Thank you for posting these wonderful pictures!

    December 07, 2018

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